Monthly Archives: March 2016

5 Thoughts:”The Man In The High Castle”

 

hcEven though I’ve made some complaints about the book in the past, after buying a copy at the library – for 50¢! – and rereading it the second time, I gotta admit this is a really good book.  Tied with Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, it’s one of Dick’s best novels and it’s arguably the best alternate history novel of all time (eat your heart out Harry Turtledove).

Watch out – spoilers about!

You know the story: because America did not get involved in the war effort, the Allied powers lost World War 2. To add insult to injury, the Nazis and Imperial Japanese took over the US and split it in two. The story shows us what American life is like under German/Japanese rule in 1962.

That being said, 5 things went through my mind as I read The Man In the High Castle. 

1. The Parallel World May Not Be So Different From Our World After All

Since most of the story takes place in the Japanese-owned Pacific States of America, it shouldn’t surprise us that there is a racial pecking order: the Japanese are the ruling class, white Americans are second class citizens, other people of color are described as faceless entities – the only time we see any Chinese Americans in the book, they’re pedecab drivers. Another time we see one black person, he’s a slave who has to abide by a curfew because slavery is legal again. One of the characters, Robert Childan, a man who sells old American artifacts to rich Japanese customers, tells us that illicit relationships between Japanese men and white women are commonplace, but it’s never the other way around. Another character, Nobosuke Tagomi, a trade official, walks into a diner, sees a group of white men at a counter and expects them to move from their stools when he tells them to. Sound familiar?

Whether this was Dick’s intention or not, the racism of the alternate timeline is not so different from the racism of our timeline. Just a reversal of skin colors. Even the Nazis’ “ethnic cleansing” of Africa in the book reminds me of Rwanda and Darfur.

2. Juliana Frink is Dick’s Most Interesting Heroine

Well she’s not exactly a “heroine” considering some of the choices she makes in the book. But many of Dick’s later books depict female characters as nothing more than sexual partners – or objects of desire – for the male protagonists. Juliana has affairs with many men but it’s by her choice and from her perspective. She is the only character who sets off on a journey to find the titular character and it’s her alone who finds out the “truth” about Germany and Japan’s “victory” during World War 2. Plus she’s a judo instructor who can take care of herself and who saves the life of Hawthorne Abendsen, the author of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy.

3. It’s Not “Trippy”

Or as The Verge‘s Adi Robertson puts it, “one of Dick’s less mind-bending books”. Many a complaint has been made from filmmakers that his novels are hard to film – don’t expect a film adaptation of Ubik anytime soon – while those that have been successful, had to take a few liberties with the source material. But The Man In the High Castle is an easy read. It’s so clear and concise in its writing and worldbuilding, it’s hard to believe that it came from the same mind as A Scanner Darkly. However, the only “mind-bending” parts are Mr. Tagomi’s “vision” of a victorious US and the confusing ending… yet the story still fascinates and intrigues.

4. Why The Grasshopper Lies Heavy?

The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is the title of a best-selling (but banned) book-within-a book that describes in detail what the world would be like if the Allied Powers won World War 2. Except the outcome is very different from our timeline. In the world of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, there’s Cold War tensions between Britain and the US, not Russia. Another book that’s popular among characters in TMITHC is the I-Ching, which is used for advice on everyday decisions. But what made The Grasshopper Lies Heavy stand out to me is that the title is taken from a passage in the Bible – Ecclesiastes 12: 5 which reads: “the grasshopper shall be a burden”. We have no other evidence if the Bible is still read or even tolerated in the victorious Axis Powers timeline. What’s more peculiar is that the I-Ching “wrote” The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. Does this mean that the Bible is the go-to book for advice in that other timeline?

But back to the choice of title. When one reads all of Ecclesiastes chapter 12, the author is talking about, in poetic terms, the physical burdens of old age. Some other Bible translations say “the grasshopper drags itself along”, “a white-haired, withered old man, dragging himself along” and “the grasshopper is heavy with food”. So why did Dick choose this scripture as a title for a book about a Cold War between Britain and the US? Do the superpowers “drag themselves” to destruction? Which brings me to my last thought.

5. What Could’ve Been

Philip K. Dick died in 1982. He expressed a desire to write a sequel to The Man In The High Castle but never got around to it because he couldn’t face doing anymore research on the Holocaust. But he didn’t have to. The sequel hook is right there in the novel. Juliana tells Hawthorne that his book showed “a way out”. What if the sequel was about her finding a way out of her timeline and into the timeline described in The Grasshopper Lies Heavy? Dick could show us an America where, because of cold war tensions, there was never a “British Invasion” in music and rock n roll is very different. Or maybe the US never got involved in the Vietnam War, therefore no anti-war movement or counterculture. The possibilities are endless.

And as for the title of this sequel? It’s staring us right in the face.

Those are my 5 thoughts on The Man In The High Castle. What’re yours?

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World War 1 Fantastic – Film

Unless you’ve been hiding out on some island hidden in the Bermuda Triangle, you may have heard the news that DC/Warner Brothers hotly anticipated Wonder Woman movie starring Gal Gadot will take place during World War 1 instead of the era where she was first introduced. DC must’ve read my mind because I’ve always imagined what Diana’s story would be like in the 1910s instead of the 1940s. This shows creativity on DC’s part because if they stuck with tradition, the film would be compared to Marvel’s Captain America: The First Avenger endlessly. It’ll also introduce a new generation of girls and women not just to a feminist icon but to a bygone era that changed the world a hundred years ago.

But I’m not here to speculate on a movie that won’t be out until next year (FACT: 2017 will be the centennial of America’s entry into the first world war). Today I’m here write another post about The War to End All Wars as seen through the lens of speculative fiction. My first post in the series looked at novels. My second one was about television. My last post listed video games. If you’ve guessed by now that today’s article is about film – you’re right!

Impossible! You say. There aren’t any fantastical films about World War 1! Ah, but that’s where you’re wrong! They do exist, you just have to find them.

Biggles: Adventures In Time: (1986. Released in the UK as simply Biggles). A film with arguably one of the most laughable taglines in movie history:

Meet Jim Ferguson. He lived a daring double-life with one foot in the 20th century and the other in World War 1.

Think for awhile why that that sounds so absurd. No, it’s not “double-life” part.

James “Biggles” Bigglesworth was a character from a series of book by W.E. Johns about an ace pilot and his adventures during and after the Great War. The first story, “The White Fokker” was published in 1932. The series grew in popularity to the point where they continued after Johns’ death. So it was only appropriate to make a full-length feature film about the character right.

Yes, except the original script was going to be closer in tone to the books and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Then Back to the Future was released…The success of that film made executives want to cash in on its popularity and the script was altered to include a modern day character named Jim Ferguson who “stumbles” into 1917 and befriends the titular hero. Jim later learns (from Peter Cushing, in his final film role) that he and Biggles are “time twins” two men who travel through time when one or the other is in mortal danger. OK if Jim just learned he had this ability in 1917 why didn’t he travel to the first three years of the war when Biggles’ life was threatened repeatedly? You know what, never mind. It’s too confusing. In case your wondering, yes, the film was a flop. Enjoy the trailer:

Deathwatch: (2002) A horror movie directed by Michael J. Bassett about a group of British soldiers who are suddenly surrounded by a mysterious “mist” and find themselves on the enemy side of the trenches where terrified German soldiers cower in fear about “something else further down the trenches”. Ignoring their warnings, the soldiers investigate and find rotting bodies, bloodied mud and an inhuman growl in the distance. Needless to say it all goes downhill from there and the British soldiers learn the true meaning of “No Man’s Land”. The question is, is the horror the result of supernatural forces or is it all in the soldiers’ heads? The cast includes a non-CGI Andy Serkis.

Here’s the trailer:

Sucker Punch: (2011) This film is not about World War 1. It’s about a girl living in 1959 who wants to escape from a mental asylum with her friends before she gets lobotomized. Or something like that. This film is very divisive among femgeeks: some call it a sexist masturbatory fantasy, others say it’s a critique about the sexualization of women in popular culture. One scene everyone remembers best, though, is Baby Doll’s (Emily Browning) fantasy sequence where she and Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), Amber (Jamie Chung), Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) and Rocket (Jena Malone) navigate through the trenches of World War 1 to retrieve a map. But they must fight off steam powered zombie enemy soldiers because all the allied soldiers are too shell-shocked to fight. The only available clip on YouTube is shown in three parts and is erroneously titled “Nazi Zombies”:

War of the Worlds: Goliath: (2012) This Malaysian animated film is a loose sequel to H.G. Wells’ seminal classic. It’s 1914, 15 years after the first Martian invasion. The world, as you know, is mobilizing itself for the Great War. Except this time the weapons used are engineered from Martian technology that was scrapped after the invaders died from disease. Just as war begins – how convenient! – the Martians return. With bigger, badder weapons! And stronger immune systems! As a wise man once said: “there’s always a bigger fish”.

Here’s the trailer:

So what do you think? Have you seen these films? Do you know of any other sf/fantasy/horror films that take place during The War to End All Wars? Let me know in the comments.

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